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Massachusetts Supreme Court: Failure to Register Guilty Plea Vacated

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held on November 19, 2012 that a sex offender did not violate the state’s registration statute and should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea after being charged with failure to register.

Massachusetts’ sex offender registry law requires level 2 and level 3 sex offenders to initially register in person at their local police department. “In each subsequent year,” the offender is required to again register “during the month of birth.”

Nicholas B. Loring was classified as a level 2 sex offender. He registered as required on June 20, 2008. When he did not register again during his birth month of September 2008, however, he was charged with failure to register.

Loring pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year imprisonment and lifetime community parole supervision. He subsequently moved to withdraw his guilty plea but the trial court denied his motion.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed, concluding that “in its ordinary usage, an obligation occurring in a ‘subsequent year’ means the year following the reference year.” Since Loring had initially registered in 2008, he was not required to register again until September 2009 – the subsequent year after he first registered.

“Although the defendant admitted during the plea hearing that he did not register in his birth month (September) in 2008,” the Court found that “the statute did not require him to do so. Being under no obligation to register ... in September, 2008, he could not be convicted of the offense of failure to register.”

Consequently, because “‘a court may not convict unless there are sufficient facts on the record to establish each element of the offense,’ ... the defendant’s plea was invalid” and Loring’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea should have been granted. See: Commonwealth v. Loring, 463 Mass. 1012, 978 N.E.2d 763 (Mass. 2012).

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